Trouble at the Auto Repair Shop
The car mechanic has to find what is wrong, tell you how much it will cost and fix it properly.
What are my rights?
When you drop your car off for repair, you have the right under New Hampshire law to ask for a written estimate containing:
- an itemization of the work to be done,
- an estimated price for the parts and labor necessary, and
- an estimated completion date.
You can also ask the shop to return to you any part that had to be replaced.
If the repair is unusually expensive or complicated, it is a good idea to shop around.
If you agree to have the repair work done as estimated, the repair shop may not exceed their estimate by more than 10% without your OK in advance.
Repair shop must get your approval
You must give the repair shop your OK before any repair work can be done to your car. You can do this verbally or in writing. Even if you don’t ask for a written estimate, the shop needs your OK before they can work on your car. If the repair shop does any work on your car without your OK, you do not have to pay for that work. If you claim that the shop did work that was unauthorized by you, then the shop has to prove that you did authorize the work. This is why most repair shops will ask you to sign the repair order before the work begins.
When you go to pick up your car after the work has been done, you should get an invoice that tells you all the work that was done on your car. The invoice should also tell you the price of parts and labor, the hours the mechanic worked on the car, whether any used or reconditioned parts were used in the repair, and what the shop’s guarantee is.
The repair shop is required by law to have a sign measuring at least six square feet that informs you of these rights.
What if repairs are made without my approval?
If the repair shop has done work that you did not authorize, you do not have to pay for it. If you tell the shop that they have no right to payment for the unauthorized work, the shop will almost always dispute that with you. New Hampshire law also says, however, that the repair shop has a “lien” for unpaid parts and labor on your vehicle. That means that the repair shop may refuse to return the car to you until you pay.
A responsible repair shop will give you back your car if you pay for the authorized repairs and place the amount for the disputed repairs into an escrow account where it will be held until the dispute is cleared up.
Paying for the repairs does not mean that you give up your right to go to court to get back the money you paid for the unauthorized repairs.
If the shop forces you to pay the disputed amount before returning your car to you and you need the car back right away, you will probably have to pay the shop for the unauthorized repairs. However, you can then sue the repair shop in small claims court to get your money back.
If you do not need the car back immediately, you can go to court and file a claim against the repair shop. Once you charge that the shop has done work without your OK, the shop has to prove that you did authorize the repairs. If the shop cannot do that, the court should rule that the shop has no lien against your car and that the shop has to give you your money back.
Warranty on repairs
Unfortunately, New Hampshire does not require any specific warranty (guarantee) terms for auto repair work. Most good repair shops will have a warranty policy. It is important that you ask about the shop’s warranty policy before you have the car repaired. Make sure that the warranty covers both parts and labor. It is also good to be sure about whether the repair shop requires you to take the car back to that shop for any warranty repairs. If the shop does offer a warranty, you should ask for it in writing. The terms of the warranty should also appear on the service invoice.
If the repairs are not satisfactory
If the repair shop fails to repair your car correctly, you have several options. Usually the first place to go is back to the repair shop. A responsible repair shop wants to be sure its customers are happy with the work the shop has done. When you tell the shop that the work was not satisfactory, assume that the shop wants to make it right. A good shop will not charge to correct an unsatisfactory job. If the shop is unwilling to correct their errors, you should discuss the problem with the shop owner. If you still get no satisfaction, you should consider contacting the Better Business Bureau. If you believe the shop has done something illegal or is not upholding the terms of their warranty, you should consider contacting the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection and Antitrust Bureau.
This pamphlet is based on the law in effect at the time of publication. It is issued as a public service for general information only, and is not a substitute for legal advice about the facts of your particular situation.